St John of God gets the logistics right

19/11/2008 - 22:00


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AT first glance it's hard to imagine there's much similarity between running warehouse hardware stores and private hospitals.

St John of God gets the logistics right

AT first glance it's hard to imagine there's much similarity between running warehouse hardware stores and private hospitals.

Yet St John of God Health Care Inc believed there was a lot to learn from locally run, nationally operated business, Bunnings, which is part of the state's biggest private employer, Wesfarmers Ltd.

Between them, the two operations employ more than 10,000 people in WA, and significantly more than that on a national basis.

St John of God group chief executive Michael Stanford said the private health business recognised that managing attendance and rostering for its complex 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week operations resulted in errors, inefficiencies and angst when it came to recording workers' hours and paying them accordingly.

"There are a lot of pieces of paper floating about," Dr Stanford said.

The group's management team realised that big retail operations had similar issues in terms of shifts, and a search to learn better practices led them to tap into the processes of Bunnings, via Tony Howarth, who sits on the boards of both St John of God and Wesfarmers.

"We knew Bunnings was good at logistics and it was people-intensive," he said.

One of the changes was to move their staff to the use of swipe cards, an automated process that helped remove pay errors, which occurred frequently in the manual system due to the variety of shifts and the high number of part-time workers.

In an industry struggling to find staff in a boom economy, pay issues was one problem that Dr Stanford was glad to deal with, not to mention the real-time data that such a system provides.

"It makes less errors and keeps staff happy, and takes less time," he said.

St John of God is a unique business in WA.

The not-for-profit player has grown through acquisitions to be one of the biggest healthcare groups in Australia and New Zealand, employing more than 8,000 people across the region - turning over almost $760 million to generate earnings (EBITDA) of $3.9 million.

However, it remains firmly rooted in WA with more than 4,100 permanent and part-time staff working here across several hospitals, in addition to several hundred casual staff.

Like many WA businesses, it has encountered skills shortages across its workforce but this has not been a uniform problem that many other sectors have had to deal with.

Dr Stanford points out that shortages in clinical staff, especially doctors, relates to long-term reductions in university places, which is hard to counter without importing people.

This is especially acute in the regions where St John of God would be prepared to build new hospitals if high-level staff could be found.

Nursing shortages in the public sector have been well publicised but Dr Stanford said the issue was also prevalent in the private sector.

Like many in the mining sector, St John of God had sought to offer special services to its staff, being notably flexible for those in the nursing sector who appear to prefer part-time work.

This included benefits such as massages and a popular child minding centre at its Subiaco hospital, the biggest in the group where more than 1,800 people work, as well as offering significant training and development backed up with pay rises for those who attain additional technical skills.

St John of God has also been very active in offering clinical placements for nursing trainees, part of a strategy the hospital chief calls enlightened self-interest.

"We are working with the universities to make sure they are choosing the right people," Dr Stanford said.

"We are trying to make sure WA has a big enough workforce."


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